Monday, September 8, 2014

Who Defends the Virtual Countries of Tomorrow?

Air Force airmen at Barksdale Air Force Base update anti-virus software for units to assist in the prevention of cyberspace hackers.

Does a virtual country still need real military protection? And if so, who provides it? Short answer: Yes, and the United States.

President Barack Obama made a visit to Estonia on Wednesday where he praised the country’s government in unsubtle terms as a core NATO ally. “As a high-tech leader, Estonia is also playing a leading role in protecting NATO from cyber threats,” he said. “Estonia is an example of how every NATO member needs to do its fair share for our collective defense.”

Estonia serves as the host of the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence. In many ways, it’s NATO’s cyber tip of the spear in Europe. It’s also a world leader in e-governance. Citizens have unprecedented access to health, education, and government services online and can even exercise their right to vote digitally. But it’s also becoming a country within a country.

In May, the government of Estonia announced the launch of a “digital country” initiative. Beginning next year, the country will allow anyone who can pass a quick  background and identity check at an Estonian Embassy to become a digital citizen of Estonia and get an ID card. Estonia’s future e-citizens can open bank accounts, start online business headquartered there, pay taxes online or reinvest in the country tax free. It could be a model revenue-generating scheme for countries all around the world. More importantly, it could significantly increase Estonia’s geopolitical clout.

Siim Sikkut, a government policy advisor in charge of the new e-citizen effort, believes that the number of virtual citizens could top ten million by 2025, a huge increase over the roughly country’s current 1.3 million person population.

Here’s why virtual countries, and digital citizens, matter to U.S. security: a country with an increasingly antagonistic relationship with Russia is about to grow its cyber profile by a factor of more than seven and they’ll be looking to the United States for protection.

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